UPS Green

From time to time, Green Blizzard will evaluate the carbon emissions policies and practices of a major consumer services company. After all, our patronage of their products and services can dramatically expand or shrink our personal carbon footprints. Buy something from a fat-Daddy carbon belching corporation and you’re footprint swells. Engage a service that’s really put some meaningful thought and effort into smartly curbing their carbon footprint and that will carry over to a smaller carbon footprint for you and your family. These corporate upstream decisions impact the amount of embodied energy and all related carbon emissions that are emitted manufacturing and distributing these consumer products. One option you have every day to vote with your consumer decisions and favor carbon light products and services.

Today our focus is on the United Parcel Service, UPS, those friendly folks in the boxy brown trucks and uniforms. Secretly,…. I was hoping to find that UPS was more brown than green – its not top shelf, but they’re starting to walk the talk.

We’ve been thinking about what’s the difference in a consumer’s carbon footprint if they buy locally or order online and let the professionals deliver it to your door.  Which is the greener option and what are these major delivery providers doing to manage their massive carbon footprint?  We’re not going to single-handedly answer it in this article, but plan to write a series of articles on the green-ness of online ordering vs hoofing it down the congested highway.

By many measures, UPS is the largest delivery service in the world.  We all know that you get past the green-washing, big business oftentimes means an environmentally unfriendly, profit driven at all costs organization.

UPS seems to be everywhere, because you see those brown military style uniforms and boxy, diesel delivery vans and trucks everywhere.  So, as I began researching this article, ready to unearth un-green atrocities, I had flashbacks to 4th grade and when mercilessly redden my fellow student’s paper when we had to grade one another’s worksheet. Well this time, I had my red pen out and was ready to heavily mark the green missed opportunities, but discovered there was little to critique. UPS is an example of how a big company can use their resources to be an environmentally conscience global company.

The 2009 UPS Sustainability Report is an impressive document. While it’s often difficult to judge a company based on their own propaganda they issue, UPS actually goes to third parties to independently evaluate them.  Because they are so large, they are the perfect example of how small changes can add up to a huge impact upon the environment. I think the thing that really won me over was that UPS is not afraid to take chances with new innovations that will help the environment.

They were the first delivery service to start operating hybrid trucks which recover 70%  of the energy lost to braking. They did tests in Detroit and these hybrids saved 50% on fuel costs and had 1/3 less carbon emissions. Though they cost $7,000 more, UPS estimates that these hybrid will recoup this extra cost within 3 years. In 2009 they also added 245 new vehicles that run on compressed natural glass and now use 1,883 alternative fuel vehicles. They are the leaders in the shipping business in alternative fuel vehicles.  Although its only a fraction of their fleet, its a good start.

They were the first to offer carbon neutral shipping as well, and have had this service verified by independent companies such as the Carbon Neutral Company and Société Générale de Surveillance (SGS)

Every year since 2000,  UPS has increased its MPG through smarter driving routes and more efficient vehicles.
By using proprietary logistic software more than one billion miles have been averted saving 186 million gallons of fuel. One of the more interesting concepts embraced was the preference for gas-efficient right turns in the route mapping.  Left turns consumes more gas  waiting to make the turn and studies have found that about 25% of gas mileage is consumed idling in traffic. So you can see why a right turn saves time, money, gas, and carbon output .

UPS still has plenty of room for improvement.  They aren’t perfectly carbon neutral throughout their system yet, and their goal to increase international shipping is concerning as airplanes are by far have the largest carbon footprint among the transportation options.

However, it’s a nice surprise to see large corporate companies taking the first steps to becoming green not just purely for PR reasons. UPS has made that simple connection that businesses can start thinking green as a way to lower their costs. Using less energy and becoming more efficient are synonymous with saving money. I wonder how many hybrid vehicles UPS would employ if gas price was double(as is the case in many European companies). Regardless, I’ll have to put that cap back on my red pen in this situation as UPS seems is taking smart and efficient steps towards delivering your packages in with a smaller and smaller carbon footprints.

The fact that they are so fast and efficient with their shipping is also a positive because as our post on shopping online shows, it’s better for the environment. However, I hope they aren’t content to sit on their hands, as a lot can still be done by them to decrease their carbon footprint and help make the world a little greener.

green writer samantha frapart Be sure to check out our green lifestyle store Green Blizzard Store. Check out these related Green Blizzard articles: Seafood Watch, Are We Eating Fish Into Extinction, Carbon Impact of Meats, Local Produce, Sun Tea, or Growing Basil.


About the author

John R. Garnet

John's work in the energy market fostered his interest in the environment. He recently completed his graduate work at George Mason University, But more interestingly, John has a passion for food and cooking and to provides some light-hearted tips to make people's lives greener while enjoy the good life with everyday practical tips from brewing tea, growing basil, or drinking raw milk.